Welcome to the our first Writing Sprints of the year. Hope you are all well rested, refreshed, and ready to put your creativity to good use.
I’ve been reading lots of mysteries lately. For the investigators in the stories, it’s a case of asking, “and then what happened,” over and over again to reach the truth. From the writing perspective, the start of a new story is more often a case of, “what would happen if?”
- What would happen if someone down on their luck suddenly won the lottery? (I happened to someone in real-life just recently).
- What would happen if a close-knit community suffered a devastating fire? (This is a real-life what-if, culled from the headlines.)
- What would happen if “the detective investigating a crime fell in love with the suspect?” (This happens in my current contemporary mystery).
This year, our story prompts are going to focus on “what-if” scenarios, and we’re going to see what happens from there. I’ve got lots of story ideas floating around in my head – either left there by Santa or fueled by all of the holiday treats I may or may not have consumed. Regardless of where they came from, I’m going to try to put them to good use by giving today’s story prompt a try as soon as I get home from work.
Care to join me?
For those of you working away on a story (whether a first draft or a polished version on its way to publication), if you’re not feeling random, we’d love to hear a bit – whether it’s a scene, a paragraph, or even a phrase that you are especially pleased with and would like to share.
If you don’t have a story in progress, or just want to work on something new, I hope today’s story prompt and/or random words will catch your creative fancy.
What if: A claustrophobic character got stuck in an elevator?
Feel free to include any (or all) of the following random words:
blizzard wept countryside lust
daytime bloodstain heartbeat applause
delicacy harbor alcohol awful
computer enterprising gymnastic companion
I look forward to seeing your stories in the comments. If you’re not feeling in the writing mood today, or don’t have time, feel free to post suggestions you might have for future “what-if” prompts. Ideas are always welcome.
Happy writing to all!
It got really long and I still didn’t get “lust” in. But here’s what I’ve got.
The Elevator Rescue
It shouldn’t have been as awful as it was. I’d been just a heartbeat away from a gruesome death. Now, thanks to an unlikely but enterprising companion, I live to tell the tale.
That day started like any other, except for the blizzard that swept through our fair midwestern city. It darkened the daytime skies, dumping mountains of snow across the countryside and turning city streets into wonderland playgrounds or impassable nightmares, whichever you prefer. Despite the miserable conditions, I had to go out: as a computer tech, part of the new gig economy, I had geek squad commitments.
I arrived only two hours late at my first appointment—a Windows 7 upgrade on the eighth floor of an eight-story apartment building for seniors. It would be: who else would still be using Windows 7?
Someone else was waiting for the elevator, a wiry fellow carrying a toolbox. He looked harmless enough, and I was grateful for his small stature. Elevators and I don’t exactly mix—I tend to get anxious in confined spaces, and large persons can suck the air from my lungs faster than an aspirator. But this ride looked easy enough, if I could remain focused on the door and my breathing.
The door opened and we entered the elevator. The maintenance man—for that’s who I assumed him to be—nodded casually to me and punched the button for eight. Perhaps he was part of the upgrade. Maybe the Windows 7 customer needed an electrical boost as well as a tech.
The doors closed and with a small groan of gears, we ascended. My stomach lurched, as well, but I was in control. Until the lights went out and the elevator ground to a halt. Then I panicked.
“What happened?” To my irritation, my voice trembled. “Why are we stopped?”
“Must be power outage,” my companion said. “Big storm.”
“When can we get out of here?”
He shrugged. “Who knows?”
I could have wept. I couldn’t stay in the elevator. I could not. I knew what would happen. First, panic. Then terror. Shortness of breath. Then heart attack, coma, and death.
Okay the “heart attack, coma, and death” part had never happened before, but I knew if I had to stay in that elevator for more than a few minutes, I’d be passed out cold on the floor. And maybe worse. A lot worse. Already my heart was beating way too fast.
“I have to get out of here,” I said, rubbing my clammy hands on my thighs. “I can’t breathe.”
He looked quizzically at me. “Plenty air,” he said.
“There isn’t,” I said, sagging against the side of the elevator. “Not for me. How can we get out?”
Something about my attitude or appearance must have conveyed the seriousness of the situation to my fellow prisoner.
“I fix,” he said. By the dim light of the emergency button, he opened the toolbox and rummaged through it, finally taking out a heavy-duty builder’s tape measure. He pulled out the metal tape and gazed up at the light panel overhead. Then he reached up with the extended tape and poked at the plastic grid that covered the light panel.
In just a few seconds, he’d lifted the plastic grid and moved it aside.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Fixing,” he said. But this was ridiculous. Unless there was an emergency power switch above the light panel. Yeah, that must be it.
He put the tape measure away and closed the toolbox.
“Emergency platform on top,” he said, confirming my thought. “Be right back. No worry.”
He stood below the opened light panel, looking up. I joined him. Now that the grid had been removed, I could see—barely—the two unlit fluorescent bulbs on either side of the opening, with a vast darkness overhead, the empty elevator shaft that reached up to the eighth floor. Cables hung through the length of the shaft, barely visible in the black void.
I felt my gorge rise.
My companion crouched and then leaped straight into the air, grabbing the edge of the light panel and pulling himself through the opening in a feat of gymnastic dexterity that would have been the marvel of the national Romanian team. And then, to my horror, he snatched the nearest cable and shimmied up.
I’d have screamed if I had enough breath. Instead, I could only watch him climb, praying he made it to safety. I lost sight of him in the darkness.
Where was he going? Was the “emergency platform on top” at the eighth floor? Could he make it?
After what seemed like hours, I felt the elevator lurch. I had long ago given up all hope of surviving the ordeal while standing and had taken a more secure position lying on the floor. But the elevator’s movement brought a scream of terror to my lips. It wasn’t enough I would die alone, in a dark elevator, from fear. Now I would be smashed to death in a falling metal box, victim to gravity and the effects of a freak snowstorm.
But the elevator didn’t fall. Instead, it climbed slowly, by inches. And then it stopped.
I soon heard a tremendous noise, banging and scraping and shouting, and then the door opened by an inch or two!
“Help,” my former companion said from the other side. “Push.”
I got to my knees and flung myself at the door, shoving my fingers through the tiny opening and pushing the doors apart with all my might. And then something gave way and they flung wide.
Waiting for me in the dark hallway were the senior citizens of the third floor. Standing upright, or in their walkers, or sitting in their chairs, they beamed at me, their faces horrible caricatures of shadow and light, illuminated as they were from below by the flashlights they carried. They broke into applause.
“How did you do it?” I harbored only the most grateful emotions as I gazed at each person with awe.
“Winched it up,” the maintenance man said. “Group effort.”
After that, the senior citizens and the maintenance man carried me down to the sun room, from whose wide windows we could observe the snow still falling. Without power, food in the refrigerators was rapidly spoiling, so we took advantage of the situation to have something of a party. One of the seniors brought in a battery-powered radio, so we had music by which we twirled gently in the soft darkness, and we slaked our hunger and thirst with alcoholic beverages and party-worthy delicacies.
We had no regrets. Undoubtedly these actions threw off everyone’s sodium and cholesterol readings for weeks afterwards, but I think I can speak for all when I say how much fun we had. Especially the maintenance man, who was thrilled that none of our escapades had left bloodstains on the carpets.
What a fun story, Kay. And no bloodstains on the carpets is definitely a plus.
I see I have my work cut out for me this weekend as I work on my own sprint.
Love this, Kay! I do love a happy ending, especially one with music, alcohol and party-worthy delicacies. Thank you!
Okay, a little late, but here’s my story. I think I got all of the words. Hope you enjoy it.
The Bright Side
Maggie hobbled her way to the entrance of the clinic, smacked the automatic door button with a crutch, and reached the warmth and security of the brightly lit lobby just as the daytime skies darkened and the snow began to fall in earnest.
Between the weather, the crazy drivers on the road, and her own incapacity, she had been afraid she was going to miss her appointment with Dr. Sanders, but the enterprising young Uber driver who picked her up had attacked the roads with fearless abandon. Or stupidity. Hard to tell, but at least he got her here safe and sound and – she looked down at her watch – 10 minutes early.
Maggie automatically headed for the stairs, then stopped when she realized there was no way she could climb four flights on crutches with a broken leg. Had she been a world-class gymnast, or maybe a pole-vaulter, she might have had a chance, but as an athletically-challenged computer technician, with a tendency to trip over non-existent obstacles, the stairs were definitely a no-go.
There was nothing for it. It was going to have to be the elevator.
I can do this, she thought as she pushed the call-button and waited. Or maybe I could just go home. I’m sure Dr. Sanders would understand. As Maggie debated fleeing, the elevator arrived, and the doors opened. She got in and pushed the button for the 4th floor before her fears got the best of her.
Just as the doors started to close she heard, “hold that elevator, please.” While she searched for the button for the doors, an arm reached in and they re-opened, revealing a young man pushing an empty wheelchair.
“Thanks,” he said as he rolled in and leaned against the back of the elevator. A stethoscope draped loosely around his neck and what may or may not have been a bloodstain decorated the front of his scrubs. His was an appealing face, made more attractive by the air of competence he exuded. Had she encountered him anywhere else, she might now be harboring faint feelings of lust.
As it was, panic was her predominate feeling and she mentally began to sing, “Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall ….” It was her calm-down song and she should only need a few verses to make it to the 4th floor.
She was at ninety-seven bottles of beer when the elevator made an awful grinding noise and then . . . nothing.
The blizzard that was battering the countryside had apparently brought its destruction inside, knocking out the power bringing activity to a standstill. In the past, she’d have probably wept in panic-fueled frustration, but she and Dr. Sanders had done a lot of work over the years and she drew on that now as she kept her breathing even and focused on remaining calm.
“The backup generators should kick-in shortly,” her companion said. She couldn’t see him in the blackness, but she didn’t need light to hear the tell-tale waver in his voice.
She waited a heartbeat, then said, “Not a fan of enclosed spaces.” It wasn’t a question; she could sense the tightly controlled fear swirling around him. Not surprising, since it mirrored her own.
“Actually, it’s the possibility of falling,” he answered after a pause. “I know it’s unlikely, but …”
“I know what you mean,” she said as she slipped the backpack off her shoulders and tried to find a comfortable position to stand. “The fact that you’re more likely to win the lottery and get struck by lightning, twice, doesn’t make the thought any less worrisome.”
He laughed. “Exactly. Though right now, the fear of missing my lunch break is equally worrisome.”
“Big fan of cafeteria food, are you?”
“Well, today’s special is that rare delicacy, grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup.”
“I’m surprised you’re not trying to claw your way out for that,” she laughed. “I have snacks in my backpack, if you can’t wait. Nothing of that caliber, of course.”
“You bring snacks for a doctor’s visit?” he asked, sounding curious.
She squirmed a little self-consciously, glad he couldn’t see her in the dark. “I just try to be prepared for the unexpected,” she said. Contingency planning was how she managed to keep her various anxieties in check and function as a competent, responsible adult. Well, at least give the appearance of doing so.
“Sound planning. So, what’s in there?”
Maggie mentally went through the contents. “Well, nuts, energy bar, cookies, water, a small flashlight/radio/siren, a battery charger for my phone, first aid kit, book, sweater … no alcohol at the moment, though. A regrettable oversight I know.”
“Definitely regrettable. Did you say, Cookies?”
She balanced on one crutch, reached down, and rummaged around in the front pocket of the backpack. Pulling out a small container, she opened it and handed it in his general direction. “Here. Oatmeal raisin,” she said as they awkwardly tried to connect in the darkness.
His hand grazed her arm then made its way to the container and a cookie. “Thanks.” They ate their cookies then made small talk back and forth, both doing their best to ignore the fact that they were stuck in an elevator, in a storm, in the dark.
After what felt like hours, but was probably only about 15 minutes, the generator kicked-in and the elevator’s emergency lights flickered on. Moments later the elevator came back to life and resumed its steady ascent. When the doors finally opened, Maggie felt the urge to burst into applause. Instead she hobbled out as quickly as she could, then held the door for her companion and his wheelchair.
She turned to look at him, even more attractive now that they weren’t trapped in the elevator. “I’m Maggie, by the way. Nice meeting you,” she said with a smile, “Let’s not do it again anytime soon.”
“Hi Maggie-by-the-way. I’m Max.” He smiled back at her. “Thanks for making being trapped in an elevator a little more enjoyable.” He started to walk away but then turned back. “I was just about to go on break. Can I interest you in some lunch?”
“Grilled cheese and tomato soup is my favorite,” she said, then added, “The cafeteria is on the 1st floor, right?”
She paused a moment, then squared her shoulders and turned toward the still waiting elevator. “Shall we?”
Dr. Sanders would be so proud, she thought to herself as they entered the elevator and the doors closed once again.
Nice job getting all the words in so smoothly, Elizabeth!
I enjoyed that a lot. Well, except that I have an appointment tomorrow at the local hospital. On the fourth floor. After reading this, I’ll most definitely be taking the stairs 😉
Well . . . as long as there is no blizzard outside – LOL!
Where was “lust”? I didn’t see lust, and I was looking for it because I couldn’t work it into my own story. But then, I suppose looking for lust isn’t a bad thing, no matter what. 🙂
The lust is in there Kay, LOL. “Had she encountered him anywhere else, she might now be harboring faint feelings of lust.”
That was terrific, Elizabeth! Did I ever mention that I once was actually trapped in an elevator with a nice guy? He didn’t speak much English and seem uninspired to escape, but I was on my way to a job interview and was a little more anxious about getting out. The whole thing was pretty interesting. They have ways of talking to you while you’re stuck…
Glad you liked it Kay, but sorry to hear you have a real-life “trapped in an elevator” experience. I was briefly trapped for just a few minutes at work one day when the elevator decided to take a break between floors and did not enjoy it at all. I’ve viewed that particular elevator with distrust ever since.